Junior doctors returned to the picket lines at NHS hospitals across England last week for a 72-hour strike. This is the latest round of action in a dispute over full pay restoration that has now been ongoing for months.
Socialist Appeal comrades were out alongside BMA members, either in solidarity or as striking junior doctors themselves. In most cases, comrades reported decent turnouts on picket lines, and a determined, militant mood to keep fighting (see reports below).
This strike came just a week before a national strike ballot in the RCN nursing union is set to close, on 23 June. Alongside NHS consultants organised in the BMA, who are also balloting, this presents the opportunity to unite the various struggles. This would strengthen the hand of all health workers in these disputes.
Indeed, many doctors told us that coordinated action across the NHS, along with wider public sector, will be necessary for them to win.
The health union leadership must seize the opportunity to do just this: link the struggles to save our NHS.
Such united action should come alongside wider demands to reverse privatisation, outsourcing, and austerity, and fight for a fully-nationalised NHS, run under democratic workers’ control.
As the text of our leaflet below explains, we must fight to kick capitalism out of our NHS!
Listen to Dr Will Collins from @bma_marxists explain why junior doctors are back out on strike, and how we must kick capitalism out of the NHS and put healthcare in the hands of workers that keep our essential services running 🧵 1/2 pic.twitter.com/mJOjzLwRTx
— Socialist Appeal (@socialist_app) June 16, 2023
Royal London Hospital – East London
On the first day of strike action, Socialist Appeal comrades from Stratford and London Central branches joined the striking junior doctors at the Royal London Hospital picket line in Whitechapel.
The mood was optimistic, with around 50 people in attendance, despite the insulting government pay offers and their repeated attempts to undermine the strikes.
This has only backfired against the ruling class, with more and more NHS workers becoming radicalised.
Comrades distributed a flyer produced by our comrades in the BMA, organised under the name BMA Marxists, calling for a campaign to “Kick Capitalism out of the NHS” and for united strike action across healthcare disciplines and other sectors, which was well received.
One BMA worker told us he really enjoyed reading the flyer and thought it was excellent. Workers on the picket lines are in agreement that we must continue to escalate the action, and strike together to win and bring down this rotten system.
Comrades from across east London also raised money for the BMA strike fund, amounting to over £100 pounds, which we presented to the union rep there.
On Friday, comrades also joined hundreds of other doctors at a protest in Whitehall. Despite a last minute change of plan, there were still many who were able to join the march. Here workers raised the demands for full pay restoration, and demanded to speak to Steve Barclay, the Tory health minister.
In speeches, BMA officials made clear this was going to be a long dispute and the importance of joining up with the nurses unions. Escalation and coordination is absolutely necessary if the momentum is to be kept up.
— Mike Fusi (@MLFFusi) April 14, 2023
UCLH – Central London
Socialist Appeal activists from the Camden and Bloomsbury branches attended the UCLH picket line on Wednesday. When we first arrived the picket line wasn’t that busy, but we were told that from 9am it starts to get busier.
And sure enough it did! Soon there were dozens of junior doctors standing on the steps in front of the hospital, chanting and waving signs. Cars, vans, and buses all drove by honking their horns in support.
We were told by one picket supervisor that the press will often turn up early in the mornings when it’s quiet on the picket line, and clear off by the time it really get going! This is just another example of how the bourgeois press manipulate the facts to make striking workers appear weak and isolated.
We helped hand out some leaflets and talked to passers-by about the strike. We then got chatting to one doctor, Joe, who gave us a short interview (see embedded).
Interestingly of all, he was not the only doctor we spoke to who raised the need for coordinated action that day. Clearly more and more doctors are drawing the conclusion that to win pay restoration will require an escalated, united struggle!
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Southampton General Hospital
This round of strike action saw a single day of picketing at Southampton General Hospital on 14 June.
Members of the BMA spoke to Socialist Appeal. We were told that the strike turnout has improved from about 60% on the first round of strikes, to about 70% for the second round. Junior doctors will be reballoting as their strike mandate will soon expire.
One BMA member said that the junior doctors rejected a 14.5% pay offer in Scotland, as this is not pay restoration. There was also a defiant mood to fight for full pay restoration which would be along the lines of 30 to 40 percent increase in pay.
We were told that consultants would also be balloting for strike action and there was a feeling of optimism that the strikes are spreading further across the NHS workforce.
Socialist Appeal activists informed other local union activists about the BMA picket line details. The NEU were present with their banner, as were Unite Community. This gave the picket line a buoyant mood and there was a strong feeling of solidarity between the different trade unionists present.
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Our materials on the NHS strikes were well received, and it was generally agreed that coordinated action across the trade union movement is necessary.
One of the BMA members said that the unions need to link up and fight the Tories, just as the unions in France are fighting their own government.
Addenbrookes Hospital – Cambridge
On Wednesday and Thursday, Socialist Appeal activists based in Cambridge went down to the Addenbrooke’s Hospital picket line. Approximately eight to 10 junior doctors were out on the picket on both days.
We got into conversation with a doctor who was a BMA council member. They mentioned how young doctors are leaving in droves for better pay abroad. And even within Britain, they are paid significantly less than their Medical Associate Profession (MAP) counterparts.
Despite completing costly medical degrees and accumulating large debts over many years of education, they earn around £29,000 per year, while MAPs, who only undergo two years of training, are paid around £40,000.
This has been used as a means of plugging the staffing gap. The BMA should instead demand more funding for doctors and more training for them, with fewer artificial bottlenecks, and also try to organise these MAPs to overcome this deliberate divide-and-rule tactic by NHS bosses.
While this doctor was uncertain if the government would be able to address their pay concerns – they made clear they were willing to fight all the way if necessary.
Other young doctors we chatted with were also concerned about low pay – but were also generally disgusted with the capitalist system.
Comrades therefore also discussed with them our recruitment campaign. All of them said they had seen our ‘Are you a communist’ posters! A couple of the doctors expressed an interest in joining the IMT.
Join the communists!
Clearly there is a layer of junior doctors who are being radicalised during these strikes. But such militant workers can often end up isolated and demoralised, if not organised alongside other class fighters.
Our comrade Rahul out on his picket line last week 🚩
Listen to what he has to say about the junior doctors strike 👇 pic.twitter.com/hTVsYq2u9N
— BMA Marxists (@bma_marxists) June 20, 2023
That is why some junior doctors are starting to turn to us – the communists – and joining our ranks.
So if you’re an NHS worker – a nurse, a junior doctor, a cleaner, or a porter – we call on you to join us, and help us bring revolutionary ideas and militant tactics into this fight for the future of the NHS itself.
Kick capitalism out of our NHS!
Below is the text of a leaflet that Socialist Appeal comrades working in the NHS are distributing on picket lines and inside workplaces, calling on other health workers to get organised and mobilise around a bold socialist programme.
The NHS is in crisis. Everyone knows it. And for those of us working in it, we feel it every single day.
People are dying as a result – as many as 500 per week, by some estimates.
We need to end this. But first we need to understand why this catastrophe is occurring.
Funding for the NHS has been cut to pieces. And stepping in like vultures are private health companies. These leeches are already hoovering up as much as 25% of public healthcare spending. This means tens of billions of pounds of money is going straight into the parasites’ pockets.
This is just the beginning too. A poorly-functioning NHS – one that feels like it’s on the brink of collapse – provides the perfect excuse for further privatisation by the Tories, or even Starmer’s Labour.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, for example, has repeatedly advocated utilising the private sector to ‘bolster’ the NHS.
We must be clear: the problem is capitalism.
Profit-making, private interests, and the market have been allowed to seep into what should be a genuinely public service. Funding cuts too are the result of austerity, as the capitalists force us to pay for their crisis.
Already we, as NHS workers, are starting to fight back.
The struggles by junior doctors and nurses are part of a struggle for the very future of the NHS itself.
The creation of the NHS, 75 years ago this summer, was an historic concession won by the working class. It must be defended by any means necessary.
Now we must turn these defensive struggles into an offensive struggle. This means fighting for a bold socialist programme that can kick capitalism out of our NHS.
This means fighting for:
- Full reversal of all funding cuts, funded through expropriation of the billionaires and bankers.
- Full renationalisation of the NHS, under the control and management of health workers.
- Nationalisation – without compensation – of all outsourcing firms and private healthcare companies, to be integrated into the NHS.
- A crash recruitment and training programme, under trade union control, to end staff shortages.
- An above-inflation wage rise for all NHS staff, with future pay increases linked to prices.
This will not be easy. But all of the gains that our class has made have been fought for – including the NHS. Now we must fight once more for its future.